Today I'm taking the day off. The hustle from Satoshi's disappearance has finally died down and no more overtime patrols are being maintained.
Dorafi excitedly showed me her finished drawing of a wolfman holding a glowing sword. It was a marvelous drawing. My 3-year old daughter is amazingly cute.
"Wow! Did you draw daddy?"
She nodded cutely.
"Daddy kill evil beast!"
"Ho ho.. That I will. But where is the evil beast, Dora?"
She looked back into her favourite slate, holding the piece of chalk in her cute small hand. She made a cute grave face and cutely erased everything on the slate and started to cutely redraw.
(She's so cute.)
I was spending time with my cute daughter, while she was spending time with her favourite activity; drawing. She loved carrying around her slate and chalk and would sit down anywhere and start drawing. Even though she was 3, she didn't talk much. But that just added to her cuteness. I'm sure she'd still be equally cute even if she did talk much.
Perripi, my eldest daughter, had gone hunting. Though regular patrols had stopped, the village head had instructed the hunters and gatherers to maintain bigger groups. Gatherers would now head out in groups of 2-3 while hunters in 3-5. It was still relatively early in the morning so I don't think many groups would be out and about yet.
My son was downstairs helping his mother with some work. I had offered first, but she refused saying I should rest on my day off. She's a wonderful wife.
While, Dorafi, who had been named after a famous mythical explorer with a monkey and a talking bag, was right here leaning over her favourite slate, drawing with an intensely cute expression. I was leaning on the back of the bed, while she was beside me.
I jumped up as a loud noise burst through the main door of our house, rushed through the stairs and made its way in front of me, panting.
"Perripi! What happened!? Why are you back so early!?"
I had a very bad feeling. Why was she here now, and where was the rest of the party? I waited in distress while she caught her breath and before I could prompt her again, she lifted her head. All my worries were replaced with confusion as I saw her make the most excited face I'd seen her make in a very long time.
"Satoshi is back!"
I sat, listening to Perripi explain the circumstances of her party’s encounter with Satoshi. I was nervous when she mentioned climbertooths had appeared so far from their territory and that too a pack of size they couldn't handle. For some reason I was more nervous since I could tell from her expression that the end of this story was supposed to be a happy ending with Satoshi involved somehow. Yet when she told me how powerful Satoshi was, I was an equal part relieved and an equal terrified. I was relieved that he had survived and not only did he have sufficient power to continue surviving but he also used it for the good of others. But there was another part of me that couldn't accept his return. Why was he coming back? If he was as powerful as my daughter described, could he be stopped if he chose to destroy the village on a whim? No. These were not my apprehensions. My heart constricted because of my daughter's face, Perripi's face. She was talking so passionately about this person, who though had been acquainted, but was practically a stranger. I knew absolutely nothing about the man barring his species and a three-day long incident in his life. I had never even talked to him, since I couldn’t. And from what I understood of her story, neither did she, in her interaction right now. Then how could she talk about such a man with so much enthusiasm? It was abnormal, or at least not completely normal. Irrespective of whatever it was, I didn't like it.
"You said he's on his way here with Boraro? I need to go talk to the village leader. Come with me and explain the rest of the things on the way."
I was irritated and commanded her with a voice more stern than what I usually did.
"Kamu and Garo went to tell the village leader of this, Bora told me to come and inform you."
(He's a smart man. He sent Kamudatou to the village leader while Perripi dealt with me. He himself must be bringing Satoshi over slowly so that we could decide how to address this situation.)
"Either way, I have to meet the leader. Follow me."
She replied obediently, though there was still some charm in her voice. I ignored my unease and rushed downstairs.
I made quick steps to my wife.
"Satoshi is back. I need to go deal with this. You stay safe, alright?"
Before she could respond I gave her a kiss on the forehead and made my way out of the house. She knows I will be there to answer her queries later.
"Bye mom! I'll be back later!"
Perripi followed after me. I sped up, maneuvering through groups of wolfkin with practiced ease and reached the leader's house in less than 2 minutes. Perripi got left behind but she knew the way. Time was of the essence and I couldn't waste any.
I barged through the open door.
"Smirnie, good timing. I was just about to send for you.”
What I'd come to a sight, was a blind old man who was also the village leader. He was retired but his aura as a warrior had not diluted even a bit. Over years of lack of vision, he had learnt to tell people apart from their presence. Even today, I believe he can outdo the best hunters of our village in a 1v1.
“We, the wolf tribe, have always lived isolated from the rest of the beast people. Still, we have our pride and honor and would never turn down a guest at our door. But the situation is a little more severe than that. Even more than what it was when the human had first arrived.”
Right next to the door that I'd entered, were three hunters like me and the two kids from Perripi's party. Looks like all the explanation had finished before I even arrived and the leader was motivating the hunters before distributing commands.
“Though we were unaware of trespassers that could have been hiding in our forest then, we were united, strong and we were to find them and take them down inside the forest itself, where we have lived our entire lives and know like the backs of our hands. Now, we are aware that him who comes to greet possesses magic beyond what we have seen before. But he comes here, where we have women and children that we need to protect at all costs.”
We all replied at the same time.
“We have less time. Smirnie, you come with me to greet the human. The rest of you, as already discussed, gather as many men as you can and wait in ambush. We will do our best to prevent a confrontation but in the worst scenario, we may need to give our all to prevent a massacre."
The ranger Kamu from Perripi’s party gulped hard. He was visibly shaken from the experience he had had with Satoshi. For some reason I just couldn’t believe that Satoshi could be as powerful as they were making him out to be. It had to be a trickery, some monkey-business.
"Father! Haah, haah.. There you are.."
Perripi came in, exhausted. I'd forgotten she ran all the way to our house as well so she got left behind.
"Perripi, you wait with your mother till I go and see Satoshi."
"What.. haah.. I came all the way.. heeere.. Haah.. No, i want to go with you!"
I told Perripi to go back but she refused.
"We'll invite him to our house again!"
(She's not aware of the dangers associated with that man!)
"Do as your father tells you, Perripi. If all goes well, you may see the human in your home."
Perripi opened her eyes wide at the leader's statement.
"What do you mean.. 'if all goes well'"?
She looked at me.
After becoming a hunter, she had started to address me more formally as 'Father'. I grit my teeth as she called me like she used to when she was young, in this situation.
"Ironov, gather the others. Kamudatou and Garoudu come with me. Smirnie, follow as soon as you're done."
The leader gave his orders in order; to the other hunters, Perripi's party members and lastly to me, before he left me with Perripi.
Perripi looked at me tense, waiting for a reply.
"The world isn't as ideal as you think, Perripi. You should understand this. He's a human."
I tried to explain to her in a calm voice.
"But he saved me from the climbertooths!"
Something in me snapped at that.
"No one in generations has even seen a human! Then he suddenly pops up near our village?”
“But I told you already, he can fly with magic!”
“Exactly! He hid all his powers! If he can fly as you described, it would make sense how he appeared there and then disappeared a few days after. But what about the time he stayed with us? You should know it better than anyone else!"
Somewhere inside it felt like I was trying to convince myself of my anger more than I was doing her.
"How can you not understand? How can you not see that I was the victim!? That your father was the one who was deceived!?"
"It could have been his first time as well! I don't know his circumstances but we could ask him.. I mean, he can ever speak somewhat now.."
Just seeing my daughter argue against me for a stranger made me more angry.
"And be deceived more!?"
Perripi looked at me as if she'd seen a ghost.
"I brought him to our village, to our house! If something had happened, it would be my responsibility!"
"But nothing happened..."
"But what if it did!? Just because I did something as stupid as save a human, everyone's life was in danger!"
"That isn't stupid.."
"It was! I should have left him there with that badasaur!"
I probably wouldn’t have held such an opinion normally, but I couldn’t contain my anger.
"It would've been better had he been eaten! Even if not, he would've died from the blood loss. And then he would've been eaten!"
I didn’t mean it...
"Just because I brought him here, everyone had to live in fear for their lives!"
That's not true. No one knew him more than a crippled young man. No one was afraid. In fact, people were more afraid of other humans that may have come with him.
"Can you imagine the guilt your father had to live with, everyday!? Knowing he brought such danger into our midst!"
"You're not making any sense…"
I had to somehow make sense. I was her father. I knew better. I had to get her on the right track.
"Nothing good comes from associating with other species. We live like this as a tribe, away from everyone else because we're better like this!"
"Father. You sound like a coward."
What did she just say?
"What did you just say..?"
"You're a coward, father."
She said, as if spewing venom.
"How dare you!?"
Perripi fell on the floor from the force of my hit across her face. But she still looked up at me in defiance as her lip slowly bled.
I grit my teeth in anger. I turned away from her and stomped out of the place.
"I have to go to the leader. I have a duty towards the village."
I told myself that. My head was a bundle of fury. How could my own daughter call me a coward when all I was doing was to protect her and everyone else!? Nobody could see the burden on my shoulders!
I left behind the leader's house and made my way towards the entrance of the village. I had to make sure no one got hurt. I had to do it all by myself. I had to repel the incoming danger.
I reached the entrance. It was constructed out of a simple fence but it was enough to prevent smaller animals from simply coming in. There stood the leader and Perripi's party members: Kamudatou and Garoudu. I was just in time as a group of four people appeared from the other side. Two of them were the remaining members of Perripi's party, followed by a human and another beastkin, supposedly a ferret woman, according to my daughter.
There he was, at the back with a dark robe covering his body. The one who brought turmoil to my home and conflict between a father and his daughter. His eyes locked with mine and he responded with a small smile.
(Now he's even mocking me!)
All I could see was my daughter singing praises of him and going as far as to fighting with her own father.
"Leader. We have brought along our esteemed guest with us. This is mister Satoshi and his.. uhh.. wife, Feriana."
As Boraro finished introducing them, Satoshi opened his mouth to say something but I interrupted.
"What have you come back for, Satoshi?"
He frowned. I had tried to keep my voice calm but some anger leaked out.
"I brought you here, saved your damn life and this is how you repay me!? By leaving all of a sudden and then coming back when everything was finally settling down!?"
A warning voice came from the leader but I ignored it. My anger and my need to justify it was peaking.
"I let you stay in my home. Fed you. Even let you play with Dora but you lie to me…? You pretend to be a helpless man till you could regain your strength and just leave without a word!?"
That's exactly what happened, I know it.
"And now for what reason have you come back for!?"
"Mister Smirnie, Satoshi cannot understand.."
The ferret woman spoke up to tell me something but was interrupted by Satoshi.
"Now you won't even let a beastkin speak her mind? A human through and through."
I suddenly felt an extremely firm grip on my shoulder. I looked back to find the leader glaring at me and Perripi's party members looking at me in shock.
"Smirnie. You want. Attack me?"
I turned towards the owner of that voice. Satoshi was looking towards the right.
Before I could figure out what he was talking about, he looked to the other side and uttered something else.
Finally, he turned towards us.
I turned back again. The others seemed to have understood something more as each stood with a different expression. The leader looked on with a frown, I could tell he was on his tips, ready to move any moment. Garoudu had a similar stance but he came nowhere near as domineering as the leader. Kamudatou had his hand on his bow, ready to draw any moment. His grip was so tight that his hand had gone pale just like his face.
I looked back to Satoshi and found him staring right into my eyes.
(Four; me, the leader, Kamudatou and Garoudu? Then fourteen and twelve means.. he knows..)
I came to the realization that he was aware of the hunters waiting in ambush, down to their count.
Suddenly it became incredibly hard to breathe.
I couldn't produce any sound either even though I could hear just fine.
(What the hell!!??)
I clutched at my throat that refused to let any air through.
"Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!"
Yet as suddenly as the air had become constricted, it became free again.
It lasted less than five seconds, but it was enough to make a point. I looked about and the hunters that were hiding were slowly coming out, holding their throats and carrying a mix of confusion and their determination; confusion about what was happening and determination to protect their village. If they were attacked, it meant that their cover was blown and there was no point in hiding anymore.
"Everyone, stop. And go back."
I looked to the leader who commanded as such.
For only the second time in my life, had I seen him so shook. The first time was after he had lost his vision and now. All the other members of Perripi's party were present and not a single one was calm. I could smell the terror that radiated off of each one of them. I suddenly remembered how Perripi had explained the death of climbertooths.
("They burst from the inside, all at the same time.")
I felt a shiver run down my spine, realizing how close to death I'd just been. Only the ferret woman by his side looked like nothing had happened to her, indicating that Satoshi could pick and choose precisely whom to target with his magic.
"Leader, what happened?"
One of the hunters shouted from the back. They were ready to run and pounce on Satoshi at a moment's notice. I no longer thought it'd work though. And clearly, neither did the leader. He turned around and addressed the others.
"Our guest was just giving us a demonstration. All of you, return to your homes immediately."
The leader's voice was stern.
"You all as well. I'm sure you kids are exhausted."
He told Borara and the others, and they obediently followed his orders. They knew there was no point in a fight and if it indeed broke out, their presence was meaningless.
He finally turned towards me. He was blind, yet I felt myself cowering at his gaze.
"Have you finally calmed down or do I need to bash your head in?"
I knew it was neither an idiom nor an idle threat. He would do exactly as he described.
I gulped and nodded.
I turned back to Satoshi. He was looking at me with an almost sad gaze, full of disappointment.
Everyone had left. It was just me, the leader, Satoshi and the ferret woman. I was wracking my brain for words to say but I wasn't sure if I was in the right mental state.
"So I don't really understand much of what is going on here.."
The ferret woman next to Satoshi spoke up before I could.
"But you know.. If you want to fight him, I would advise against it. You'll all die.."
She said it so nonchalantly that the hair on my tail stood on end. I knew what she was saying was right, but hearing it just drove it deeper into my head.
"Misunderstandings can happen but as long as no one is hurt, it's fine right!"
She said with a clap and a joyous smile, as if our simultaneous lack of breath had never happened.
"And from what I understood, he came here to thank you for saving his life from some.. baadasuaar?"
"Oh I just realised something funny.. You saved his life. He saved mine. So indirectly you saved me. Thank you!"
She bowed towards me. From her cheerful expression I got the feeling that she was genuine in her gratitude, but for some reason it was suffocating.
"You came to thank me? Because I saved you from the badasaur?"
I muttered under my breath. I didn't intend it as such but I'm sure no one heard me.
Why didn't I think of that? Why didn't Perripi tell me so? Was she so enamored by this man that she forgot the most important part while singing his praises?
I could see the problem now. The problem was me. I didn’t wait for her to tell me. I was too annoyed at her lovestruck expression to care. I jumped to conclusions on my own without thinking things through. Just because she was acting like he was the most amazing and charming man she had seen, didn't necessarily mean she was falling for him, right? That's right. It didn’t prove anything.
I shook my head.
It was me who got his fur in the gutter for not realizing it sooner.
"I'm sorry, Satoshi."
(And I'm sorry Perripi.)
I bowed my head deep.
"I'm stupid. I didn't bother to figure out why you were coming and just jumped to conclusions. Forgive me."
I made a direct apology without trying to make any excuses.
"Hihihihi.. There's no way he'll understand those complicated words. Though I'm sure he understands the sentiment."
The ferret woman by his side replied first.
Finally came his voice. I did as told. His disappointed expression was gone and he seemed a little happy.
"Thank you. You save me. My words, less. Incomplete. No sorry. I forgive."
He tried to convey his feelings in his limited vocabulary but I understood.
Before I could reply to him, he moved. I flinched a little at his sudden movement but it was nothing hostile and I realised I was still a little paranoid from earlier.
He made his way over towards me and extended his hand. There was a similar expression in our tribe for warriors. I grabbed his arm from just before the elbow and nodded. There was no more need for words between warriors. For some reason he looked amused even though he initiated it and after a second, reciprocated.
No words were exchanged as we reached an understanding.
As we separated our hands, he turned to his companion.
“Feriana. Ask. Place. We go.”
“Ah good idea!”
The ferret woman with her called Feriana clapped her hands.
“Mister Smirnie, me and Satoshi are on a journey of sorts. We don’t really have a destination in mind, so could you tell us of any nearby inhabitations? Villages, cities, anything will do.”
“You’re going to leave?”
To say I was surprised was an understatement.
(He literally came here just to convey his gratitude to me?)
But then again, what was the alternative? To invite him to live in my house again? Perripi’s words came to mind "We'll invite him to our house again!"
Though I certainly accepted that I might have been jumping to conclusions with the situation between Satoshi and my daughter, and though I had calmed down and had taken Satoshi’s hand as a warrior, I was still apprehensive about letting him stay in the house.
I looked back to the leader who had been silently standing beside me.
“Can we let them stay in the village as guests?”
“You are free to invite them but you know the rules.”
He didn’t understand what I meant.
“No, I mean.. Can we give them another house for a day?”
He narrowed his eyes at that. Even though he had lost his sight, his habits had remained.
He agreed. And I knew he did that because he couldn’t disagree. And I also knew I was going to be reprimanded severely for pressuring him on the spot like that.
“Really! That’s great! Satoshi, we can spend the night here, they said!”
Feriana completely failed to understand the subtleties beneath what was just said and Satoshi’s language comprehension was too inconsistent to figure it out. Hopefully. Though he didn’t give any obvious signs even if he did understand that his invitation to stay was slightly forced by me.
“That’s what we said, Feriana. You seem to be around my daughter’s age. Perripi, you have met her, haven’t you?”
“Oh yes we definitely have! She’s really a bundle of joy!”
I was glad they had gotten along.
“How about you follow me to my home first? I’m sure my family will be thrilled to meet Satoshi again. Till then I’m sure the leader can arrange an empty house for the two of you to stay the night.”
“That sounds perfect! Did you hear that Satoshi? We are first going to visit Mr Smirnie’s house and then we will get to sleep in a nice and peaceful sleep!”
She seemed escalated at my suggestion. She took Satoshi’s hands and started to jump with joy.
I looked towards the leader. I could instinctively feel his expression as the equivalent of a glare.
(May the wolf God bless me.)